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Lawless Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Lawless (2012) movie poster Lawless

Theatrical Release: August 29, 2012 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: John Hillcoat / Writers: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (book The Wettest County in the World)

Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Jack Bondurant), Tom Hardy (Forrest Bondurant), Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant), Guy Pearce (Charley Rakes), Jessica Chastain (Maggie Beauford), Mia Wasikowska (Bertha Minnix), Dane DeHaan (Cricket Pate), Chris McGarry (Danny), Tim Tolin (Mason Wardell), Gary Oldman (Floyd Banner), Lew Temple (Deputy Henry Abshire), Marcus Hester (Deputy Jeff Richards), Bill Camp (Sheriff Hodges), Alex Van (Tizwell Minnix), Noah Taylor (Gummy Walsh)

Buy Lawless from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD

The period drama is a double-edged sword. A film set in the distant past is guaranteed to be taken more seriously and to compete more fiercely for a number of technical awards. At the same time, its commercial prospects are perceived to be a lot smaller (Titanic being the most giant exception to the rule).
Being set during Prohibition, Lawless has much more going for it than it would in the present-day. What might have been an unremarkable crime drama about modern urban bootleggers is instead a fascinating tale about real historical outlaws.

In 1931 Franklin County, Virginia, alcohol is illegal. That is the cornerstone of the Bondurant family business. They're moonshiners and for the right price, law enforcement is willing to look the other way. The burly, quiet, and composed Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the brains and brawn of the operation. He is assisted by his younger brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf), kept out of harm's way as a mere driver, and explosive middle child Howard (Jason Clarke). The Bondurant boys are something of a local legend and Forrest is said to be invincible, having survived the illness that claimed their parents and anything else that's gotten in his way.

Business is dangerous but good, with Jack's crippled young friend Cricket (Chronicle's Dane DeHaan) creating a quality supply, a satisfied customer base providing the demand, and special discounts keeping them clear of the law. Then one day, Special Deputy Charley Rakes (a nearly unrecognizable Guy Pearce) rolls into town, expecting to get a cut of the brothers' profits. Forrest calmly shoots down the proposed partnership. This does not sit well with the groomed and perfumed Rakes, a barely eyebrowed agent with slicked-back, jet black-dyed hair who appreciates bow ties and sadism. Thus, a resolute enemy is born.

With fresh stitches in his throat, eldest brother and leader Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) shoots a glare. Youngest brother Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) romances a preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska).

Not that enemies are tough to find in this rural part of Virginia. Some hell-raising new ones put Forrest out of commission and come close to testing his fabled immortality. This turn allows young Jack to emerge as our protagonist, as he steps up to assume a more active role in the family's operations. He too comes close to meeting his maker in an effort to strike up a partnership with the fearless gangster Floyd Banner (a most sparingly used Gary Oldman). Jack picks up a love interest in preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). The recovering Forrest, meanwhile, gets closer to his headstrong bartender Maggie (Jessica Chastain).

Lawless is the second American film from Australian director John Hillcoat, whose 2009 post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road was well-reviewed but overlooked by the public. His latest effort boasts tasteful, rugged production design and choice atmosphere. The film reunites Hillcoat with his two-time scribe Nick Cave, a rock musician, poet, and author. Cave adapts the 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of LaBeouf's character Jack.

This is a decidedly well-made film, something in low supply at theaters until this time of year. Well-acted, nicely-shot, and tautly composed, Lawless holds our interest in an unknown story that somehow seems both ordinary and a tall tale. It is at times appropriately violent. Other times, it is tender, with Jack and Bertha's romance nearly feeling like a different film, though one that complements the literally cutthroat world the Bondurants run in.

Guy Pearce is almost unrecognizable in the grotesque villain's role of Special Deputy Charley Rakes. The loyal Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) tends the bar out of which the Bondurants run their moonshining business.

The film makes decent use, maybe slight overuse, of original songs performed by a band Cave formed with Warren Ellis and featuring vocals by Emmylou Harris and others.
Given the scarcity of new music written for modern films, the Original Song category may be Lawless' best shot at landing an Oscar nomination, which its pre-Labor Day Weekend opening indicated was not too high on its priority list despite drawing a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

Opening wide and expanding to over 3,000 theaters, surprising given the subject matter and distributor The Weinstein Company's usual strategies (this became the sixth widest release in the studio's seven-year history), Lawless was unable to snag first place on one of the lowest-attended weekends of the year. Its nearly final gross of $37.4 million is a fairly respectable sum when you consider that the star power of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and infinitely better-known subject matter only took Public Enemies to $97 M with an even wider release at the height of summer 2009.

While much-better attended than Hillcoat's previous film, Lawless still begs to be seen by a much larger audience. The Weinstein Company and their video partner Anchor Bay Entertainment hope that it will do that next week, when the film's DVD and three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack grace store shelves during retail's busiest season.

Lawless: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Three single-sided discs (BD-50, DVD-9 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray boasts great picture and strong sound. The 2.35:1 presentation is vibrant, spotless, and sharp, nicely showing off the fine production design. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is even better, delivering much natural atmosphere and ambient noise to terrific effect.

Middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) responds to Jack's wounds in this deleted scene. Screenwriter and composer Nick Cave gives his perspective in his loudly-dressed appearance in "The True Story of the Wettest County in the World."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Like other Weinstein combo packs, the same bonus features are included on both the Blu-ray and the DVD, the latter of which is identical to the one sold on its own. The Blu-ray presents all video features in high definition.

The extras begin with an audio commentary by director John Hillcoat and author/descendant Matt Bondurant. As you would expect, Hillcoat addresses the filmmaking side, while Bondurant speaks more to his family's historical record.
They talk about the book's title change for film (via Terrence Malick), casting, departures from fact, shooting digitally, the characters and the real people, and the actors' performances. As far as commentaries go, this one is quite average.

Six deleted scenes (7:59) give us more of tertiary brother Howard, Bertha's preacher father, and Charley Rakes. The short bits fill in inessential blanks in less than riveting fashion.

"Lawless: The True Story of the Wettest County in the World" (21:32) is a solid making-of featurette. Like other recent Weinstein Company companions, this one is heavy on film clips. It complements those with a good amount of history, a tiny bit of behind-the-scenes, and plenty of thoughtful interview comments from all pertinent parties.

The less typical "Franklin County, Virginia: Then & Now" (6:11) gathers remarks from authors, professors, and residents about the bootlegging history, geography, and people of the dramatized region.

The listed extras conclude with a music video for Willie Nelson's "Midnight Run" (1:40), which is much more interested in showing off the film than Nelson, who is barely glimpsed in black & white performance of this short song believed to be an Oscar contender.

A featurette hidden on the Blu-ray looks at old family photographs and newspaper articles with author Matt Bondurant. Gary Oldman and Noah Taylor make a brief appearance in the DVD's main menu montage.

Digging around the Blu-ray, I found a featurette (12:45) in which author Matt Bondurant shares and discusses the historical photographs and press clippings he's found of his ancestors.
I have no idea why this good content isn't listed among the extras and might not even be accessible without a BD-ROM drive and the ability to play individual video files.

The first two discs open with menu-inaccessible trailers for Django Unchained, The Master, and, in a sure to be reciprocated bit of cross-promotion, Fox's Taken 2.

The featherweight digital copy DVD-ROM offers the movie exclusively in iTunes format.

The scored menu plays clips under an aging layer within a border. The Blu-ray neither supports bookmarks nor resuming playback, something Anchor Bay needs to work on.

The three discs (of which only the BD gets artwork) share an unslipcovered standard Blu-ray case with swinging tray, which includes an insert with directions and a unique code for accessing the digital copy plus a soundtrack ad on its back.

A freshly and badly bruised Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) gets some wisdom from his big brother Forrest (Tom Hardy).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Much of note remains to be seen, but Lawless stands as one of 2012's better offerings thus far. This rural Prohibition drama is well-executed and leaves little to be desired. With standard extras and a stellar feature presentation, this combo pack definitely merits a look.

Buy Lawless from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD

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Related Reviews:
Directed by John Hillcoat: The Road | New: Billy Bathgate & Blaze The Amazing Spider-Man Brave Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Shia LaBeouf: Eagle Eye Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Holes Disturbia | Tom Hardy: This Means War
Jessica Chastain: The Tree of Life Take Shelter The Help | Guy Pearce: Animal Kingdom The King's Speech Seeking Justice
Mia Wasikowska: That Evening Sun The Kids Are All Right Albert Nobbs | Dane DeHaan: Chronicle
Dead Man True Grit (2010) Titanic Drive City of Men 21 There Will Be Blood

Lawless Songs List: The Bootleggers - "Fire and Brimstone", David Sardy and Jordan Tappis - "Night of Canakkale", The Bootleggers featuring Emmylou Harris - "Fire in the Blood", David Sardy and Jordan Tappis - "He is All", John Wesley Ryles - "Midnight Run", David Sardy - "Sweet Truth", The Bootleggers featuring Liela Moss and Emmylou Harris - "So You'll Aim Toward the Sky", Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Convention - "Detroit", David Sardy - "The Morning After", The Bootleggers featuring Nick Cave - "Burnin' Hell", The Bootleggers featuring Emmylou Harris - "The Snake Song", The Bootleggers featuring Mark Lanegan - "White Light/White Heat", Frank Fairfield - "The Telephone Girl", The Bootleggers featuring Liela Moss - "Hymn", The Bootleggers featuring Emmylou Harris - "Cosmonaut", Ralph Stanley - "White Light/White Heat", The Bootleggers featuring Ralph Stanley - "Fire in the Blood", Willie Nelson - "Midnight Run", Clarence Ashley - "The Cuckoo Bird"

Lawless: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Amazon.com: MP3 CD

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Reviewed November 20, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company, Benaroya Pictures, Red Way Entertainment, Revolt Films, Yucaipa Films, Annapurna Pictures, Blumhansonallen Films,
The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment, and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.